Monday, August 22, 2005

Blogosphere Heats Up In U.S. Senate Race

An intense U.S. Senate race in Tennessee has been heating up in recent months on the blogosphere as Web logs, or blogs, generate pointed barbs and news analyses in the run-up to next year's election.

Although many campaigns either have or plan blogs on their official Websites, a number of unofficial blogs have sprung up in recent months. While it's still almost a year before the primaries, political activists are buzzing on the Internet, which represents the perpetual nature of American politics today, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. But the people who write and read campaign blogs are a niche group different from the general public, he said.

"Obviously the target audience here is the elite activist and operative audience," Mr. Rainie said. "No one (else) is paying attention to campaigns a year out."

Brad Todd, an adviser to candidate Van Hilleary, said blogs are the "backfence of politics these days."

"It's a way for people to talk to their neighbors," he said. "I think they're an incredible mechanism for communicating with the people who want more information."

In the race to replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the Republican primary will feature former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and former U.S. Reps. Ed Bryant and Hilleary. State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, is deciding whether to run for the U.S. Senate or challenge Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., and state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville, are running in the Democratic primary. The primary election is Aug. 3, 2006, and the general election is set for Nov. 7, 2006.

On blogs such as Blogging for Bryant, Conservatives for Corker and Harold Ford Jr. for U.S. Senate 2006, writers post daily about news reports, campaign statements, national and state political issues and candidate appearances.

These blogs often respond and link to one another about various campaign issues, such as a recent exchange between Blogging for Bryant and Conservatives for Corker about contributions from political action committees, also known as PACs.

Campaign officials acknowledge these independent bloggers may misrepresent candidates but say that's simply the nature of the Internet.

Ben Mitchell, campaign manager for Mr. Corker, said people are able to determine that unofficial blogs do not speak for campaigns.

"I think most people recognize blogs for what they are, as one person or a small group of people's opinions and commentary," he said.

Sonny Scott, an adviser to Mr. Bryant, said campaign officials keep an eye on the Senate race blogs, which he deemed "amazingly accurate."

"Things seem to be thoroughly researched and documented," he said.

But Jim Hester, campaign manager for Rep. Ford, said blogs can steer toward untruthful information. When that happens, "You've got to blog back at them," he said.

"I expect that there'll be some hard-hitting facts going back and forth," he said.

Sen. Kurita, who recently purchased campaign advertisements on national blogs such as Daily Kos, said the medium is an excellent communication tool.

"We are trying to look for new ideas, new ways to communicate with other people," she said.

From: Chattanooga Times Free Press